I finished writing The Patricians of Nishapur, my first book, in 1970. I was 30 years old and had only lived in two places: Rockford, Illinois, then the state’s second largest city with a population around 100,000, where I lived until graduating from high school, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, or more specifically Harvard University. Yet somehow I felt comfortable and confident in conjuring up the lives of the educated elite of an eleventh century Iranian city from the most niggardly of Arabic sources. It didn’t occur to me then to query my hubris.
Two decades later the thought struck me that maybe I had unconsciously populated Nishapur with versions of the educated middle class Protestant families I had come to know growing up in Rockford. I toyed with this idea from time to time over the years, but only recently have I given it serious consideration. Two things have prompted these deeper reflections.
First, conversations with my wonderful second wife, Greta Berman, an art historian who grew up in a far left Jewish family in Greenwich Village, have sensitized me to a very different life trajectory from my own, or from that of my beloved first wife of 48 years, Lucianne Cherry, a Harvard-trained Vedic Sanskritist who came from a Methodist family in San Diego and died before her time. The Methodists I knew of my generation despised socialism and spent little psychic energy trying to understand, much less sympathize with, people of color or the poor.
Second, I now feel a warm affinity with many aspects of traditional Muslim society, this despite my lifelong lack of any sense of the divine. Childhood churchgoing and choir singing, it turned out, were not enough to bring me close to God, or to convince me that God existed. Yet did Midwest Methodism inform my imagining of eleventh century Nishapur? I think it did to some extent, but the modality of its influence is far from obvious, and quite unrelated to the mindset ascribed to Orientalism in Edward Said’s famous book.
Let me start with an age-old question: What is the good life? For Greta, whose grandparents emigrated from eastern Europe to New York, it incorporates deep concerns for oppressed minorities, a moral compulsion to take part in social and political activism to correct injustices, and a lively suspicion of entrenched political and economic elites and the overt and covert power they wield.
The Rockford of my childhood, a staunchly Republican industrial city in northern Illinois, knew little of these sentiments. To the best of my recollection, no one in my extended family felt sympathy with either minorities or the poor, and no one questioned the virtues of a capitalist economy. Instead, my parents and relatives were deeply concerned with family circumstances, particularly regarding higher education. They had grown up under the strictures of traditional Methodist discipline: no alcohol, no smoking, no dancing, no card playing, no gambling, no lewdness, no blasphemy, and regular attendance at church. These rigidities gradually fell away during my childhood as Methodist discipline softened, but they shaped the lives of the older generation and hence my life as well. To this day I do not smoke, seldom drink, wear no jewelry, and feel uncomfortable in bars. (Blaspheming is another matter. Plenty of that.)
Yet an influential counter-discourse in my life challenged the Puritanism of the Methodist social and moral order, though without adopting Greta’s alternative of social activism and concern for the oppressed. Clarence Joseph Bulliet, C. J., my father’s father, lived in Chicago, away from his wife and son in southern Indiana, and gained substantial renown as a newspaper art critic championing modernism and attacking the academic painting and genteel Impressionism that passed as fine art among Chicago’s social elite. In Chicago he earned a reputation for mildly louche bohemianism, but he continued to describe himself to down home acquaintances as “a country-jake from Corydon,” the small southern Indiana city he grew up in.
C. J.’s contrarian take on the world was less in evidence in his several books on art than in his 1928 book Venus Castina: Famous Female Impersonators Celestial and Human, a lively and pioneering compilation of lore about cross-dressers, castrati, Shakespearean boy actors playing female roles, and the vaudeville star Julian Eltinge, who made a drag career of mocking the pretensions and manners of society women. The introductory chapter sets the book’s tone:
"Here is the procession through the ages of votaries of the Venus Castina—that goddess supposed to respond with sympathy and understanding to the yearnings of feminine souls locked up in male bodies.
It is a curious throng, motley and miscellaneous . . . Some of us fold tight our togas about us as they pass, fearing contamination. Many of us look on with lively curiosity. A few sit dazed and enraptured beside the shrine of Castina, and seek to understand.
It is to the curious onlookers that the author belongs—a curiosity stirred first by observing—not the finest stage impersonator of female types of our time—but the effect his impersonations seemed to exert on the women and girls of his audience. Men chuckled at the satirical flings of Julian Eltinge at the foibles of fair feminine creatures . . . but women were stirred more deeply."
C. J.’s precocious discourse on what are now deemed LGBT gender issues contained few anecdotes that could plausibly be attributed to “feminine souls locked up in male bodies.” At a personal level, he was more engaged with what he saw as gender role changes in the post-World War I generation.
The World War has intervened . . . with our policy—growing out of the fetid, miasmatic Ohio swamp of reform—of protecting the morals of our lusty young soldiers in camp. Prostitutes were barred from administering sexual comfort, and the young men were left to work out their own salvation.
"There is nothing in the known mental accomplishments of those responsible for the drastic moral and hygienic measures to indicate their ideas were scientifically any further advanced than Ohio psalm-singing or Tennessee fundamentalism—but there are indications that they may have got results comparable with those arrived at by the Greeks of the classic period . . . .
Taking advantage of the moral cowardice of “statesmen” in times of war, the reformers, too, closed tight the public houses of prostitution even to civilians—a move that, like prohibition, had already gained considerable headway and needed only a moment when fanaticism was rampant and experienced reason dormant to be made complete.
With females as difficult to obtain as bootleg liquor—fanaticism has not let go its grip in either domain—dormant tendencies have developed in young male America with the same scandalous rapidity they have long enjoyed in English boys’ schools and in colleges of Continental Europe where dormitory rules are rigidly enforced . . . .
Prohibition, too, may be playing its part, but the point is not here insisted upon—only the theory indicated . . . It is even a smarter sin, now, to drink than it is to transgress the sex code . . . With the boys maudlin from their hip flasks, the girls are comparatively safe . . . The boys and girls are becoming boon drinking companions—the girls rising to male heights of aggressiveness, the boys descending to female . . . ."
Venus Castina was illustrated by Alexander King, a young artist who in old age enjoyed brief notoriety as a television raconteur. His drawings are rather tasteless, but they are far from obscene. Nevertheless, C. J.’s wife, my grandmother Katharine Adams, had her personal copy of the book bound without illustrations, and C. J.’s copy included a decidedly homosexual original watercolor sketch by King. As for my father’s copy, C. J. didn’t present one to his college-student son until five years after its publication, by which time Jack had married, and within a few months lost his wife to illness.
My father Leander Jackson Bulliet, who was an electrical engineer for a machine tool company, often expressed the conviction that his dad disrespected him because his natural bent was toward science and technology—as he put it, being a blacksmith with dirty fingernails—instead of the arts. Possibly that was so, but I believe C. J. may have harbored a low opinion of his son, whom he lived with only seasonally for most of his childhood, for a different reason. I suspect he saw him as exactly the sort of mother-dominated, woman-fearing, puritanical, neurotic, unmanly Methodist male—I am projecting here my guess at C. J.’s hypothetical appraisal—that he saw as the product of post-war national degeneration. (He might have thought the same of me if he hadn’t died when I was only twelve.) Yet despite feeling that his father did not esteem him, Jack and the rest of the family spoke of C. J. with reverence and deference since he was much in the public eye and highly regarded as an art expert. Jack’s frequently expressed view was that his greatest achievement—various inventions and patents notwithstanding—was passing on the DNA that made me, in his opinion, C. J.’s intellectual and authorial reincarnation.
So what did being steeped in Midwest Methodist lifestyles, and simultaneously a deviant rejection of those same lifestyles, have to do with Muslims?
In the process of turning my sketchy doctoral dissertation into The Patricians of Nishapur, I had to put flesh on the reassembled genealogical bones of the leading ulama (scholarly religious) families of Nishapur. I borrowed the term “patrician” from John Mundy’s work on the medieval French city of Toulouse, notably Liberty and Political Power in Toulouse, 1050-1230. But the following qualities that I endowed my patrician families with were my own deductions from texts:
1) Nishapur’s elite religious families shared an educational grounding in the details of the Prophet Muhammad’s life as preserved in tens of thousands of traditions (hadith) orally conveyed in organized classes.
2) Their lives were shaped on models of behavior (sunna) that they derived from those traditions.
3) Their livelihoods were based on agriculture and industry, primarily textile production, and had little intersection with the fluctuating political order decreed by various emirs and sultans.
4) They honored the personal virtues of generosity, knowledge, patience, loyalty, reticence, and modesty.
5) They had a low regard for common folk who did not share their educational background or seemed religiously deviant.
6) The issues that exercised them derived from differences of opinion regarding matters of religious law and those aspects of daily life and religious practice that proceeded therefrom.
7) They looked with a jaundiced eye on the religious activities of mountebank mystics, but were impressed by more sober expressions of devotional discipline, whether mystic or ascetic.
8) They took pride in their genealogies and descent from notable ancestors.
9) They did not ordinarily fill, or seek to fill, government administrative positions; nor did they serve in the military.
10) They thought the greatest legacy they could leave to their offspring was a family reputation for piety.
These qualities now strike me as strikingly parallel to what I had imbibed growing up in Rockford. Here’s the comparison:
1) Educational excellence commanded more respect in my family circle than any other accomplishment. No one was rich. Nobody owned and/or operated a store or business. No one had degrees in medicine, law, dentistry, etc. No one served in the military or sought political office. No one excelled in the arts. But everyone was encouraged to go as far as possible in education. Two of my three male first cousins earned PhDs, as did I.
To be sure, Rockford’s public school curricula differed greatly from what the scions of Nishapur’s religious scholars learned at the feet of venerable hadith transmitters. But today’s celebration of critical thinking, active classroom engagement and debate, and questioning of received wisdom took a distant second place to rote learning and real world irrelevance. When I was thirteen, for example, I took the course in typesetting required of all boys, presumably to confer upon us a useful skill . . . albeit one that had long been obsolete in the real economy.
2) The code of living (sunna) I absorbed, as already mentioned, was that of the Methodist church. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism within the Church of England, had called his flock to choose the salvation that God held out to every soul (as opposed to John Calvin’s belief in predestination for the sainted few). The tumultuous response that made Wesley’s followers the most numerous of all American Protestant persuasions, however, had just as much to do with shunning the evils that Wesley saw sapping the energies and stealing the paychecks of England’s working class: drink, gambling, prostitution, raucous entertainment, smoking, and lewdness. During family trips we would never stop at a restaurant with a beer sign in the window. After all, one should not just live a pure life; one should also avoid places where one’s mere presence might be interpreted by others as tolerance of impropriety.
3) Though we were taught the basics of government in school, it remained a topic of remote interest. Rockford’s economy rested on industries created and owned by prominent local families. Unions were virtually unknown, as were Democrats. The John Birch Society was a presence, though not a very visible one. In high school I was invited, along with two friends, to evening tutorials in the fundamentals of libertarianism given by an ideologue working for a local industrialist. I dropped out after he explained that people who wanted a road to their house should pay for one and not depend on public works.
4) The list of virtues was pretty much the same. Not surprisingly, my favorite Muslim saying became: Inna Allah ma‘a al-sabirin (“Verily, God is with those who have patience”).
5) Social differences seldom arose for discussion, but young people in my part of town noticed among their elders a pattern of avoidance toward Italians, other Catholics, and Blacks. Targets of milder negativity included Swedes, because they were so numerous on the rival east side of town, and Jews, who were too few to attract much notice. Years later the Rockford school system would be placed under federal court supervision because of engrained racial discrimination.
6) While racial and ethnic divisions festered well below the surface, people openly disagreed on matters such as whether Dwight Eisenhower or Robert A. Taft, Sr. was the truer Republican and whether Unitarians were truly Christian.
7) Camp meetings, a staple of Midwest Protestantism that featured impassioned pleas to take Jesus into one’s life [see Herbert Asbury’s lively book Up from Methodism (1926)], were not on the event horizon of my youth. I gathered that Rockford’s ministers frowned on stirring passions in this fashion. Singing in church was another matter. I was a choir member for at least eight years. On Easter our church would resound with the voices of six choirs backed by organ and trumpets. It later struck me that congregational singing was a Protestant version of a Sufi dhikr (collective oral remembrance of God).
8) Tracing family roots and listening to family stories filled hours of conversation with relatives. Stories from “the old country” never came up, however, because everyone had been so long in the United States. Some people looked for ancestors who had fought in the Revolutionary War so they could apply for membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), or imagined genealogies that would connect them with European aristocracy. My Great-Aunt Frances, my father’s aunt, carried on endlessly about belonging to a branch of the Adams family and to the DAR, not to mention—this was really a stretch—descending from Charlemagne. Her father, my great-grandfather, had actually been a respected, though not very prosperous, farmer and sometime schoolteacher and postmaster in rural southern Indiana.
9) Though Great-Aunt Frances was married to a Republican politician and lawyer who ultimately was elected to Indiana’s Supreme Court, Indiana was not Illinois. Illinois politics revolved around Chicago, with its blacks and immigrant factions, a long 90 miles from Rockford. I spoke to only one relative who fought in World War II, and another who peeled potatoes during World War I. In the Civil War, according to a nonagenarian Indiana cousin: “We didn’t much care for Negroes. But we didn’t like the Confederacy. So we took the horses and headed for the hills.”
10) Part of a family’s reputation for piety derived from its men of the cloth. We had a few, but the only one I remember spent most of his adulthood with his wife as missionaries in Nigeria. Otherwise, good behavior, attendance at church, and avoidance of forbidden things substituted for overt piety.
Everything that Rockford had taught me about how to lead a good and proper life had come under challenge from day one at Harvard College. The people I chose to associate with seemed like members of an alien tribe that I was studying through participant observation: the Mozart-besotted roommate whose father commanded the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the eccentric guitar-playing son of a Harvard scientist waiting for his Nobel Prize, the Jewish biker who as the son of an American UN employee had attended high school in Madras and could curse in Tamil, a good-old-cowboy in the making from Oklahoma who claimed he came to Harvard because he was rejected by Oklahoma University, the velvet-voiced scion of the owner of a black insurance company in Virginia, a super-macho half-Indian poet from west Texas, the list goes on . If I had wanted to associate with people like myself, I could have. But with one or two exceptions, I didn’t want to.
Only in my senior year did I begin to value my Midwestern roots. That revaluing was still under way a few years later, when I began to imagine the patrician families of eleventh-century Nishapur. Partly because of being married to Lucy, who came from a social background much like mine, but with Tennessee parental roots instead of Illinois, I began to think that maybe Rockford and the Court Street Methodist Church weren’t so bad after all.
What struck me most strongly about Nishapur was its cohesiveness and identity as an urban society largely unconnected with any broader political or geographical entities. Like the Rockfordians I grew up with, the Nishapuris seemed to live normal and sedate lives, draw their sustenance and their feelings of worth from their local community, strive to the best of their abilities to keep at arm’s length the warlords that vied to add Nishapur to their domains, and quarreled among themselves over matters that were rooted in their learning and their religious views rather than imperial or ethnic contention.
Was I wrong in unconsciously assimilating the Nishapur I imagined to the Rockford that I grew up in? How could I not be wrong? I hadn’t been alive in the eleventh century. I wasn’t Iranian. I wasn’t Muslim. The once-great physical city had become a deeply buried field of ruins. All I had to go on was my imagination, my own life experience, and an array of textual sources that had almost nothing explicit to say about the areas of social life that interested me most.
Was this Orientalism? Of a sort, yes—insofar as I was a young American scholar cobbling together a construction of a medieval Iranian community that I had no connection with. But it was an Orientalism that had nothing to do with “the Other,” much less with denigrating non-Europeans, justifying imperialism, and wallowing in exoticism.
Decades passed, and over time I began to assemble from my growing appreciation of Muslim society a list of the gaps and moral shortcomings I now perceive to have been as much a part of my Rockford Methodist heritage as avoidance of Demon Rum. Yet as the list developed, it had little overlap with the progressive critique of conservative American life that is so evident today and that deeply informs my wife Greta’s worldview. I value that critique; I concur with it intellectually. But not so much emotionally.
What I have gleaned from my study of Muslim social history moves in a different direction, toward a critique derived from Islamic values and behaviors of the American life I know. Here are some of the areas in which my studies of Islam have provoked me to question and modify my ever evolving idea of “the good life”:
Education and upbringing
Education in medieval Nishapur put very young students in contact with quite old teachers—often unpaid volunteers who in their youth had learned from some other old men—because the fewer the steps in the oral transmission of lore about the Prophet, the greater the likelihood of accuracy. This had the effect of valuing the ends of the age table rather than concentrating education, as we do, on not very old teachers and professors teaching students in their teens and twenties. It was also common for adults to attend hadith sessions along with children. My own experience with mixed age classrooms has always been positive, and I think it would be valuable to give students in high school a taste of the college learning environment. On the whole, I think we are much too fixated on age differences.
As for the thorny problem of disciplining males who feel they have outgrown parental supervision but have not yet acquired work or family responsibilities, the medieval Muslim institution of the futuwwa (Arabic for “young manhood”) provides a model. Young men could join futuwwa clubs that engaged in collective athletic activities, but unlike modern sports clubs were imbued with a religiously inflected code of discipline. These clubs might serve as local service groups or militias in times of need, and they were sometimes affiliated with specific trades, but their primary purpose was channeling youthful rowdiness.
The modern scouting movement is an analogue, but its appeal to boys wanes well before the age of twenty. In its American version, it was also structured around romanticized outdoor life—camping, nature lore, half-baked notions of native American woodsy nobility—while the actual problem of undisciplined young males is largely urban. College sports come closer to filling the bill, but he rowdiest young males don’t make the team.
Muslim students from abroad have occasionally told me of their shock at the boastfulness of Americans running for elective office. Why, they have argued, should anyone vote for a politician who has the gall to say that he or she is THE BEST? In some religious circles, serious consideration is given to a hadith that declares that one should not seek leadership. Leadership that is gained by campaigning, according to the Prophet, puts the burden of success solely on the person selected; but God will assist the person to whom leadership comes unbidden. Simplistic and naïve as this may be in a democratic system, there is no question but that boastfulness and expensive, non-stop campaigning have diverted American elections from choosing the most capable candidates for office. I sympathize with Muslim thinkers who have tried to limit the campaign period and equalize the resources of contenders for office.
I once had a conversation with former Vice-President Walter Mondale in which I suggested that a measure of humility and modesty might be a welcome quality in a candidate. Despite his own measured political persona, he thought my suggestion bizarre. But the election of Donald Trump has shown us how absurd the pursuit of office solely for ego-gratification can become.
Teddy Roosevelt inveighed against “malefactors of great wealth,” but our economic system considers the accumulation of wealth to be the measure of a person’s success, and inheritance of wealth to qualify an heir for high regard. In my view, unconstrained wealth accumulation has encouraged the worst in Western society and is currently doing so to a greater degree than ever before.
Islamic law stipulates that the estate of a decedent must be distributed in fixed shares to his or her blood heirs, though one-third of a person’s fortune may be disposed of by specific bequests. As is well known, female relations inherit at half the rate of males. But they do inherit, and they retain control of their assets even after they marry. This resulted in Muslim women, even living in seclusion, being active agents in real estate and other commercial transactions throughout the pre-modern centuries.
The institution of waqf, a personal trust established either as a khairi (socially beneficial) endowment to support a public good, such as building and maintaining a mosque, school, hospital, or fountain, or as an ahli (family) endowment to collect the annual income from some sort of property and distribute it in fixed shares to the descendants of the founder, served several valuable functions. First, it funded all manner of public services, the administration of which was thenceforth overseen by the Islamic courts. Secondly, it allowed a person to favor specific family members as legatees. Family trusts, for example, frequently stipulated that payments to female descendants should equal those to males.
What the waqf did not do was allow a fortune acquired through commercial enterprise to be handed over intact to an heir chosen to be its successor CEO. The administrator of a waqf was entitled to a modest administrative fee for his or her services, but the property included in the trust had to be specified in the founding document, rather than varying according to acquisitions or business deals made by the founder’s successors. This limitation upon the transfer of a business from generation to generation helped spur wealthy individuals to create khairi endowments. That way, even if they could not pass on a commercial fortune intact, they could garner for their descendants a family reputation for good works. This tended to elevate family reputation above wealth as an enduring source of honor and social eminence.
It has been argued that this inheritance and trust system stood in the way of capitalist accumulation and the creation of great fortunes, and that is probably true. On the other hand, capitalist accumulation has not been an unalloyed blessing. At our current historical juncture in the United States, I would like very much to see greater efforts to induce billionaires to donate their fortunes for public benefit, that is, to become “benefactors” rather than “malefactors” of great wealth.
Gender and Sexuality
The seemingly universal disparagement of Muslim practices in the area of gender and sexuality conceals a few things that I find laudable. I have already mentioned women’s legally stipulated inheritance of property and continued possession of such property in marriage. In addition, it is noteworthy that despite the many disabilities they faced in public life, women were equal to men as transmitters of the hadith of the Prophet. True, they rarely held sessions for transmitting hadith, but their status in this all-important aspect of the continuance of Muslim social, religious, and legal traditions was that of equality.
One of the greatest Muslim religious thinkers, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111), opined that a legal wife had a right to the fulfillment with comes with motherhood. Hence she could she her husband for financial damages if without her consent he practiced birth limitation by withdrawing before orgasm. This is the only “right” I have read about that does not have a counterpart in the West. It speaks, I think, to the Muslim opposition to celibacy and conviction that in the normal course of affairs everyone should marry. It also raises the question of whether our vocabulary of rights is too single-mindedly Western.
With respect to LGBT matters, it amazes me that one of the greatest of all Muslim rulers, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna (d. 1030), became, within decades of his death, a greatly admired and written about model of the passionate lover because of his affection for his male slave Ayaz. I cannot think of any same-sex liaison in the Western tradition that bears comparison. It does not surprise me, therefore, that in present-day Iran and Oman sex change operations are religiously acceptable.
Ethno-linguistic nationalism has been the scourge of Western history since the eighteenth century. Its equivalent was refreshingly absent in medieval Islam. In most regions, nomadic zones excepted, cities with their respective hinterlands provided the core of social identity. The name of one’s city of origin often served as what we would call a surname. Your native locale was your watan, your homeland. If you settled permanently in another city, the verb istawtana could be applied to you. It means, “he has adopted such-and-such a place as his homeland.”
In the twentieth century the word watan was recoined to mean “nation,” but for a long time people felt themselves to be local first and little drawn to a national identity. For example, people would identify was Aleppan or Damascene rather than Syrian; or as Baghdadi, Basran, or Mosuli rather than Iraqi. Folklore, food recipes, jokes, linguistic peculiarities, and clothing styles reinforced this localism. This is not tribalism. It is a healthy attachment to one’s home instead of to a multi-million-inhabitant capital city in which one’s local roots are lost.
Coming from Rockford, a city that was proudly not Chicago, I approve.
The same thing with language. For many important Muslim historical figures we don’t really know what language(s) they spoke under varying circumstances.
I found Muslim traditions particularly appealing in this area, probably because my father drummed into me over and over again that self-promotion was the worst of human behaviors. In the absence of real estate developers dictating that every house in a neighborhood should sit on a quarter-acre lot with a fifty-foot setback from the street, the rich and poor of Nishapur often resided in the same neighborhoods. But prosperity was displayed within one’s house or walled courtyard rather on the public way. Similarly, both women’s and men’s outdoor costumes covered pretty much everything and varied little except in the quantity and quality of the fabrics utilized. It was expected, of course, that political grandees and their acolytes would openly display great wealth, but this was not the way of the patrician religious elite.
A favorite genre of light reading dealt with conmen and schemers taking advantage of the pride the patricians took in their piety and learning. American cons revolving around the hope of making a fortune out of a tiny investment did not figure in this literature. Instead people chuckled at tales of fake Jews who would pretend to convert to Islam in return for financial inducements, and then repeat the act in the next town down the road. Or they read about a hell-fire preacher—a Muslim Elmer Gantry—who collected fat fees from pious sinners and then moved on to the next gullible assembly.
Among the people I found most appealing in Nishapur were the Malamatis. These were Muslims who had drunk deeply of the doctrine that open manifestations of piety were indistinguishable from acts of pride and vainglory. So they kept their piety to themselves, although stories about who they were leaked out anyhow. Top-lofty detractors who felt that the Malamatis would go so far as to flout the religious law—copulate like dogs in the street!—to conceal their inner piety eventually destroyed their reputation as praiseworthy Muslims, but I find them appealing, just as I do the Malamati sentiments underlying St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s Steps of Humility and Pride.
My selection of topics in this recitation has been idiosyncratic and in no way represents the full array of my thoughts about Islam and Muslims. I have not presented it here either to praise Islam or in ignorance of other features of Muslim life that do not appeal to me so much.
My purpose has solely been to unburden myself of thoughts I have been having about who I am and what I have done with my life. That this has amounted, in the end, to the suggestion that Rockford and American society could usefully think about, and benefit from, exchanges of views with our Muslim neighbors about our respective traditions has come as a surprise. A happy surprise.